The state’s highest court Friday left intact the city of Boston’s no-bid sale of a permanent easement on the former Yawkey Way to the Boston Red Sox for $7.34 million, a deal reached in 2013 after the city’s planning agency declared the street next to Fenway Park “blighted.”
The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with a lower court judge that the Boston Redevelopment Authority had the authority to permanently grant an easement to the Red Sox, allowing the team to turn the street into a pedestrian walkway during games and other events at Fenway Park.
(The BRA is now the Boston Planning & Development Agency, and Yawkey Way is now Jersey Street after the Red Sox and the Walsh administration in 2018 dropped the name of former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, considered by some to be a racist who oversaw what was once the most segregated franchise in baseball.)
The court rejected Danvers attorney Joseph P. Marchese’s claim that the deal caused him economic harm and that the agency should have used a public bidding process to assure the city collected the most money possible from the transaction.
Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Scott L. Kafker said that under the state urban renewal law under which the BRA operates, the agency had the right to use its power of eminent domain to ignite “demonstration projects” that prevent or eliminate “slums and urban blight.”
“Given that the Yawkey Way easement was properly taken pursuant [to urban renewal law] . . . its subsequent sale to the Red Sox was exempt from public bidding,’’ Kafker wrote.
The unanimous court ruling also concluded that if the deal somehow became undone, the easement reverts to the city, not Marchese.
“He claims that he had a right to bid on the Yawkey Way easement when it was taken and sold to the Red Sox. . . . We disagree,’’ Kafker wrote. “There was no obligation by either the BRA or the city to subject the Yawkey Way easement to public bidding.”
Marchese, according to court papers, offered to pay the city $300,000 a year in order to create a pedestrian mall near one of the city’s best-known institutions, but was rebuffed by city officials during the late Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s final term in office.
Red Sox principal owner John Henry also owns The Boston Globe.
Marchese, the SJC noted, did not own property near Fenway Park and did not have agreements with the other businesses in the neighborhood that would have allowed him to operate a pedestrian mall where Fenway Park and other businesses already exist.
“The plaintiff in this case was merely a private party with neither a property interest nor an existing business that would be adversely affected by the 2013 taking,’’ the court concluded. “Without the ability to operate concessions, there could be no economic injury to the plaintiff.”
While the court agreed that the BRA complied with the letter of the law during this process, the SJC noted in a footnote that it was not deciding whether the sale price reflected market value for a parcel the Red Sox once said generated $2.2 million in revenue.
The Walsh administration and two state Inspector Generals’ offices have faulted the way the BRA calculated the value of the transaction, and also questioned the basis for concluding Fenway Park was a blighted neighborhood, especially after the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007.
“We express no opinion on whether the sale itself was at market value, or whether the [state bidding] process was improperly rushed through the BRA,’’ the court wrote.